I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do. I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do. – Robert A. Heinlein
Cultural practices that demand obedience from children, especially for daughters are no less than a curse for life. This is not unique to South Asian parenting, where Arabs, Latino’s and even a Tudor England raised daughters with great emphasis on obedience. When I talk about obedience, I mean the act of submitting without your free will and the process of a forced decision-making. There is constant guilt involved to sway decision-making where feelings of entrapment is at the end of it. Its consequence is obvious and haunting such as the sense of being robbed to feel human. It dismisses to exercise free will. In other words, there is lack of FREEDOM which is the natural right of any human being. This post focus is to give limelight to the idea of obedience that starts from parenting. It is parents who make a child realize of their right to freedom and in the instance a parent does not meet this responsibility, even then the child has a sense of something missing or feeling wronged even if unsure what exactly it is. This demands the inquiry of what is freedom exactly?
Freedom is to act on free will. Freedom takes you higher. Freedom gives you fire. Freedom makes you grow. The gift of freedom is bountiful. Freedom allows you to unlock your chains, paving one way path and that is moving FORWARD. At an independent level, those parents who raise their children with a sense of personal freedom are indirectly changing tomorrows world. In this way parents realize their children to their self-worth, and encourage self-discipline. At the same time, as a parent you are preventing shame and bullying that is going to corner them into depression and helplessness in their adult life. It sounds very simple but there is a catch that puts this rationalism upside down.
It is the idea of Izat aka honour that originates from cultural interpretation directing what is morally right or wrong. These narrow interpretations produces the “crazy” stories of girls being forced into marriage or being killed by another male member of their family because they were so called getting out of control. Further, boys are taught by their parents to give superiority to pure virgins and natural beauty. In the meanwhile, make-up is filth and a girl is superficial for wearing it. Moreover, if you hang out with a guy at 2 in the morning, the only thing you could have been doing is sleeping with them. Then there is the idea of keeping your gaze down … and sure it will stop him from looking at you. Are you kidding me? Does it not sound like some backward perverted culture found in some extremist mountainous region in another part of world… right? The truth is children of immigrant parents, especially those who are very young have to confront these narrations of HOW TO BE. Some children as they grow older give in to these believes taught by their parents and some break out of it. Nevertheless, this makes the question of WHO I AM immensely complex to the point of being nothing less than a tragedy of today’s time. As the next generation in their teens and adulthood years must come to head to head with these cultural interpretations and judge them on their own accord, where Canadian mosaic society headed is questionable.
As long as I live, I could never forget the case of Aqsa Pervez as it was so close to home and then the Shafia Murder case. These cases are the disastrous ends to girls who disobeyed and put Izat on the line for it supposedly. The clash here is beyond Western and Eastern cultural dominance, rather it is about leaving the nest behind. What comes to my mind at a second worth of thought is the Plato’s Cave theory, and the Ella Enchanted movie based on Gail Carson Levine retelling of Cinderella. In the Plato’s Cave theory the true being is curious enough to leave and explore the shadows coming from outside and in the Hollywood production Ella breaks out of the obedience spell to prevent herself from killing prince charming. In both instances, where one is confined for life to the cave and the other to the obedient spell, there was a natural need to get out of what both individuals had coexisted with for their entire life. Clearly for them, the consequence of passive existence of living in the cave and living with the spell was not bearable. It is this instinctive need built within human, and when it is suppressed during childhood long term consequences are inevitable. Thus, obedience that is instilled at a young age is eroding children’s free will that is most crucial in adulthood.
At some point, humans have to come out of what is known by the inner calling to attain what is missing. If a young adult have not been given the opportunity to exercise free will during youth years, they are left to face a difficult transition as they leave their nest behind. In many cases, this demands disobedience which means to go against the teachings of their own parents. Children are just meant to explore themselves and I am not stating this, nature has built this within us. Take my advice and put them in soccer, basketball, or tennis community programs, where if you cannot afford them, at least you could buy them an $8 soccer ball to kick around in the park by themselves. Who knows what kind of confidence they will find in themselves and strengthen their free will? Make their life easier now, parents.
What today’s immigrant children in Canada is dealing with is something entirely different, yet its the old same. It is most parallel to what the UK’s South Asian community has experienced. Remember Bend it like Bekham, which was released 11 years ago. It depicted a British-Seikh family with the protagonist names Jess whose ambition was to be a football player and her parents wished to be what was considered an obedient daughters. A path that meant she must become an expert cook of traditional Indian dishes and attend medical school. If this is what you like doing, that’s great, but as Jess’s character shows what about those who are just not cut out for this? She loves her family and respects her own culture, but she knows disobedience is necessary, as it is football she cannot live without. Although the movies ends with great optimism as she is allowed to pursue her football career in America, with more immigration on the rise in real life the rift between generation prevails. It continues to become an immense point of friction between younger and older generations as a third way of culture is being created. The Canadian youth of diverse background show there is some hybrid form of culture in the making. A blend between the culture one is born in and the culture they are raised in, where football and puja, taraweeh (the prayers after fasting break during Ramadan) and dating, dance formals and attempt at five time prayers is happening side by side. The extremes of both culture are at play alongside each other. This third way is bear reality that parents are avoiding to admit or hoping it will just go away if they keep their eyes closed.
The intensity of immigration in Canada makes this dilemma confounding further. The Deccan Herald states in Canada, Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis will become the biggest group, accounting for 28 percent of the non-white population by 2031. Their population will be between 3.2 million and 4.1 million – up from 1.3 million in the 2006 census. By 2031, one in every three Canadians will be non-white, and Statistics Canada confirms this in their report. These statistics are a good indication that this transition is not vanishing into background anytime soon and if anything it will spillover. Canada needs to prepare itself at a national level to tackle the mental health of youth with immigrant parents who will face their babies finally leaving the nest and everything the parent knows- its a normal fear of any parents but it is absolutely worse for any immigrant parent.
While many girls will give in to their parents, take the obedient way forward to keep the peace at home, outside they are unlikely to bond and build healthy relationships. At worst, others may face the destiny of Aqsa or Shariff and if they are lucky, perhaps they will find themselves following Jess’s path of pursuing their ambitions. In any case, this tug of war between being obedience and where freedom lies continues to shift in the minds of youth of immigrating families. If there is any parent reading this, your children need love, support and exposure to cultures beyond their own. As a parent, you can be part of the process of your child flying away from the nest, thus they are more likely to return for a visit trip! Building your Lahore in Toronto is not something to be prideful of when all you are doing is eating only Pakistani cuisine, watching Pakistani politics on news and visiting only your Pakistani friend’s homes. Take your children to rock climbing, camping, and skiing. And for those kids whose parents who are just not into it, make a trip with your friends on your own. This is by no means to hate on Cricket and all the leisure activities a Pakistani culture offers but merely to advocate that its not a bad idea to know Canadians Milos Raonic from Thornhill just cracked the 10th-ranked men’s player in the world after Roger’s Cup in Montreal for Tennis, marking it the first time a Canadian men’s player has done so.
Find freedom, would you? Take a chance at exercising your free will. If that means being disobedient for a little short, its not too bad of a thing. Ask yourself who do you become from being obedient and disobedient? Which one do you prefer? Can you live with it? …You want to call me a rebel, go ahead. I do not mind.